“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.” Kofi Annan
On Monday morning, Kelly and I were invited to participate in an exercise: Imagine a Monday morning in the near future when, upon arriving at our respective desks, we each discover about 18 tasks, most of which are rather urgent, and many of which were not already on our calendars. Our instructions were to put our day in order.
The list included emergencies, tasks we had been putting off, time-sensitive personal matters, last minute schedule changes and much, much more. On the surface, this exercise was about developing a professional skill: time and task management under pressure. But beneath the surface, bigger questions lurked: What matters most to us? Responding to a cry for help? Honoring a longstanding commitment? Balancing work and life?
It’s a trick question, because all of these matter. During my year as a VMC, I faced this trick question often. Should I participate in a Saturday outreach event on behalf of my Service Site, or ask someone else to go so that I could attend my son’s swim meet? Should I request a day of leave from my Service Site in order to take advantage of a direct service opportunity, or stay at work to focus on my VMC responsibilities? Should I drop everything to help a friend or volunteer in crisis?
There is no universal algorithm to apply to these questions. We must answer them in real time and, as we all know, one tiny fact on the ground can turn an otherwise reasonable day on its head. As a second-year AmeriCorps member and Peer Leader, I can assist VMCs in developing their own algorithms on the spot. In the meantime, we can all take Kofi Annan’s words to heart. There may be no “right” answers to 18-task days, but having a strong sense of identity and purpose go a long way toward choosing well when we face those days.
Finally, should we all become too serious in the face of life’s constant array of difficult choices, we would be wise to also heed the wise words William Arthur Ward, who wrote “A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life.”
In other words, when things get too crazy, we always have permission to LAUGH.